By Reef Check Malaysia
Fish bombing, or blast fishing, is a form of destructive fishing that is illegal in most countries, including Malaysia. It involves the use of explosives, usually homemade, that are mixed in a bottle. When the charge explodes, it causes shock waves which kill or stun fish. The fish then float to the surface or sink to the bottom. This enables the blast fishers to collect some of them.
In Malaysia, blast fishing is still practiced, especially in Sabah, where up to 15 blasts can be heard per hour. One study has shown that many reefs in Sabah have less than 25% of their reef structure intact and some have interconnecting series of bomb blast craters. On bombed reefs, fish diversity was reduced to less than half and actual numbers of benthic living fish species were reduced to less than 10% of original numbers.
According to another study, the use of bombing techniques for short term benefit has caused destruction of more than 80% of coral reef cover in some places. A single bomb can destroy 5m diameter of coral reef and can kill reef fish within 15m in radius. A survey in 1998 showed that 3.75% of coral reefs in Sabah were being destroyed each year. If the situation does not improve, it will mean that all existing coral reefs in Sabah will disappear before 2020.
The short term gain from blast fishing is the attraction for fishermen. Economic models show that blast fishing is initially four times more efficient than non-destructive fishing methods. However, after 20 years, income declines to one fifth of what would have been available by sustainable methods. For example, in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, net annual income per fisherman dropped from US$6450 to less than US$550.
Although many blast fishers understand that their activities destroy fish habitat, most are not aware that their activities threaten their own livelihood. They know that their reefs have deteriorated, but most are convinced that there are still better reefs further afield. For some, lower yield from traditional fishing methods are forcing them to turn to blast fishing, even though it exposes them to many dangers.
The general lack of funds, staff and facilities for enforcement, coupled with the lack of knowledge and awareness and a shortage of political will, means that the destruction will continue for the foreseeable future. In Sabah, fisheries landings have fallen by 44% in 10 years. Unless something is done, this decline will continue.
One problem impeding more effective action on fish bombing is lack of data. The coasts are vast and we acknowledge that it is almost impossible to patrol every single area. But with better data, we will be able to pin point the “hot spots” where blast fishermen conduct their activities and possibly when they are most likely to do so.
To this end, Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) has just launched a fish bombing data collection system, to start to collect data on the scale of fish bombing around Sabah. Simple to use, the data provides a means for dive operators, resorts and members of the public to report incidences of fish bombing. RCM will collate the data and provide periodic reports to the authorities on the scale of the problem.
Anyone hearing a fish blast, or finding recent evidence of dynamite fishing, is being asked to send a text message to 010 363 6013 or complete a short form on our website, so we can collect better information. Once credible evidence is gathered, we can pass the data on and, hopefully, properly address this issue.
At the same time, RCM is seeking funding for programmes to raise awareness of this issue and how it is affecting the value of Sabah’s reefs. For more information, see http://www.reefcheck.org.my/?page_id=928